Service Station: Discretion Advised

Eric Weiss - November 2013

Remember the scene from Pretty Woman where Héctor Elizondo as the Beverly Hills hotel manager helps hooker Julia Roberts turn from sin to Cinderella? He epitomized a sense of discretion when he called Richard Gere telling him his "niece" had arrived.

Though we may not realize it, discretion is one of the crucial elements that distinguishes excellent service. Whether it's at the front desk, in the dining room or in the guest’s room, it rules. Just because we have information about guests or fellow employees' private lives, doesn't necessarily mean we have to share it publicly.

Some years ago I was assessing the service at a five star hotel in Florida, incognito. When the parking valet shouted my name across the crowded porte cochere after I surrendered my keys, I surmised that discretion was not a priority. Afterwards, the front desk agent bellowed my name on at least five occasions during check-in while other guests were standing nearby. The kicker was when the latter shouted my room number to the bellman waiting with my luggage.

In today's world where privacy is as rare as a red diamond, chariness in the hospitality arena becomes a necessity. Safety and security rate high in terms of guests' primal needs. Room numbers need to be written down and not announced. Team members must be made aware of the volume of their voices when talking in public spaces.

After all, who wants to know how many beers Scott downed the previous night or that Brenda in housekeeping and Eddie in engineering are engaged?

I'll never forget entering an empty dining room the night before presenting an Excellent Service Workshop series in New York. Three servers were leaning on the bar watching a football game. I courteously asked if dinner was served. Without looking up, they pointed to a table fifty feet across the room and as I sat down, I could clearly hear their conversation about the damn service seminar they were forced to attend the next day. I must admit I had a chuckle and a sense of sweet revenge when they saw me the following morning, but I also found it worrisome. What other more important matters could they be talking about within earshot of the guests—security issues, management issues,etc.?

Discretion also plays a key role in guest rooms. Room attendants need to be frequently reminded that what they think is trash maybe something important to the guest. This also holds true for banquets and housemen. It was an unfortunate day when fifty objects I use in a memory game, carefully selected for their diversity and light weight, found their way into the hotel's trash bin. Gone were my little plastic frogs and my crepe paper flowers. A banquet server had deemed them insignificant. Thoughtfully, the banquet director personally went out the next day and bought me fifty other small, lightweight objects—a super recovery.

The host's stand can sometimes be the stage of an embarrassing scene. "Good to see you back so soon Mr. Jones."

The host or Maitre D believes he's providing excellent service by recognizing his guest and warmly welcoming him back. Trouble is, Mrs. Jones was not the lady who had accompanied the gentleman previously and he is about to be scalded in a caldron of hot water.

Don't get me wrong. Guest's name recognition is a great thing; just be careful how you use it. Assess who wants their name trumpeted and who doesn't.

"Judgement is not upon all occasions required, but discretion always is." —Phillip Stanhope

Eric Weiss is a hospitality consultant and the founder/president of Service Arts Inc.